I needed a lot of tomato cages this year as I expanded my veggie garden. When I researched the prices of cages, I stumbled upon information regarding professional growers. They don't generally use cages, they use stakes. I thought, "Stakes have to be cheaper than cages". And they are... but I needed 48!!! So, I went shopping in my shed, in my garage, and anywhere else I thought I might find something to repurpose into tomato stakes and/or cages.
Last year, I was given vinyl fencing material. At the time, I had big plans for that fence.... but then I changed my mind. So instead of sending the fence to the landfill, I tucked it into a corner of my yard until I found someone who could use it or I found a new purpose for it. That fence material has become my new tomato stakes and cages.
It's a very simple process.
Step 1: Materials Needed
Get your hands on some vinyl fencing. I found mine through a bartering/free website, but I have seen fencing at garage sales and flea markets. Vinyl fencing is very durable and will last a long time. This pic is the fencing that I have remaining after my projects are completed. These slats are 1' by 2' and 6 feet long.
Step 2: More Materials
You will also need the following.
For tomato stakes:
Large Drill Bit (I'm not sure what size I used, but the 1/4 inch bolts fit loosely in the holes)
14 gauge wire (not shown)
For tomato cages you will need the above supplies PLUS:
saw (I used a compound mitre saw)
1/4 inch by 2 1/2 bolts
1/4 inch washers
1/4 inch nuts
Step 3: Measuring the Stakes
Use the sharpie to measure one foot increments on the stake.
Step 4: Drill Holes
Drill holes in the stakes at the measured mark points. If you have a speed setting on your drill, make sure you use a low setting. If you don't have a low speed, be careful... If you push too far with the drill, you can crack the vinyl. I found this out the hard way.
Step 5: Placement of Stakes
Push the stakes into the soil very close to the main tomato stalk while your tomato plants are still small. Thread the 14 gauge wire through the holes you made and as the tomato plant grows, train the stalk and stems to grow up the stake. You might be suprised to see how tall tomato plants can grow if they are trained to grow tall.
Training the plant just means gently pulling the stalk and stem close to the stake and gently securing it to the stake. The plant will then grow where you have "trained" it to grow.
Instead of wire, you could use those velcro plant strips, but I think they are too expensive.
Step 6: Making Large Tomato Cages
To make the tomato cages, measure the length and width of your tomato garden area. Cut cross bars to fit your garden, and drill holes in the fencing.
I made opposite side panels first using the nuts, washers and bolts to secure the pieces together. I pushed the two sides into the garden bed and supported it with extra soil packed in around the fencing material.
Next, I measured the other sides and made the last two panels to fit in between. I used cable ties to secure the panels together.
I cut more fencing material to make inside cross bars throught the cage and secured them with cable ties.
At first, hand tighten all the nuts and bolts. When the structure looks complete, tighten each bolt with a wrench.
The stucture will be able to shift a little. That's ok. I've found that in a storm, you want a little shifting instead of the cage uprooting the garden.
Step 7: Cutting the Vinyl
I used my compound mitre saw to cut the vinyl. Make sure you wear safety goggles. Little plastic bits were flying everywhere.
Step 8: Completed Cages
This is what the tomato cages look like.
I also made a string bean teepee from more fencing. I used a similar process but the top is held together with a large u-bolt.
Step 9: Training the Tomato Plants in the Cages
Use the wire to train the tomato plants inside and on the side panels of the tomato cages.
Make sure you keep the wire loose so that there is room for the plants to grow through.